Anti-graft War: Gbajabiamila Insists on Complete Disclosure of NASS’ Budget

One of the leading aspirants to the Speakership position of the 9th House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, has said that he will continue to push for the budget of the Legislative arm of the Federal Government to be open.

Gbajabiamila who is the incumbent Majority Leader of the House told a gathering of legislators that he has been canvassing for a complete disclosure of the budget of the Parliament to put an end to the numerous accusations of corruption against members.

At the event, the Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), Prof Bolaji Owasanoye, said the Executive arm of government in Nigeria was more corrupt than the Legislative and the Judicial arms.

Nigeria’s score on the Open Budget Index (OBI) according to the International Budget Partnership (IBP), has been consistently on the decline since 2006

In Nigeria, those who know better say fiscal authorities include pre-budget statement, the executive’s budget proposal, enacted budget, in-year budget report and year-end budget report. The documents that were produced but not made available to the general public are mid-year budget review and audit report.

However, the citizens budget which aims to provide a ‘nontechnical’ report to the public is reportedly not made available. While most of the documents are made public, the scanty nature of the information provided, coupled with the production of two of the documents for internal use and ‘nonproduction’ of the citizens’ budget, has been resulting in the relatively low score of the country in the OBI.

On a positive note however, there has been some improvement of the country’s oversight institutions in the budget process. Specifically, the legislative strength as well as the supreme audit institutions’ strength is accorded a ‘strong’ status even though public engagement is regarded as weak.

In the mean time, Gbajabiamila who is rated as a true believer in qualitative representation, took an active part in debates on the floor of the House and was fast recognised as one of the brilliant minds in the National Assembly.

He is said to always be on the side of truth and justice and his views tend to reflect the wishes and aspirations of his constituents. This was especially evident during the infamous ‘’third term debate’’ when he was Chairman of the 2007 Movement in the House, a group largely credited for ending the ‘’third term agenda’’ and machinations of the then President Olusegun Obasanjo to perpetuate his stay in office.

His associates say he did this at great risk to his life and political career. His exceptional record saw him overwhelmingly re-elected in 2007 and elected as Action Congress Leader and Minority Whip of the House. By the end of his second tenure, Gbajabiamila had sponsored the highest number of Bills in the National Assembly amongst all the legislators.

However, a statement from the ICPC Spokesperson, Rasheedat Okoduwa, said Owasanoye spoke while delivering a lecture titled, The Legislature and Fight Against Graft and Corruption, at the 9th National Assembly Induction Programme for new legislators in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital.

Owasanoye told participants that members of the legislative arm would also continue to be branded corrupt by the public until the arm made its yearly budget public, adding that corruption thrives more in the Executive than the Legislature and the Judiciary.

According to the statement, ‘’the ICPC boss based his assertion on the fact that the aggregate budgetary allocation to Ministries, Departments and Agencies year by year was more than that of the other two arms combined, thereby allowing corruption to thrive. Corruption in the executive is far more than the legislature and judiciary combined. This is because the executive spends a far bigger chunk of the money appropriated.’’

The ICPC boss also frowned at the way NASS conducted its statutory oversight functions on the MDAs, noting that asking government departments and agencies to fund the oversight was inappropriate.

‘’The power of oversight is largely impotent because it has been commercialised. The legislature is accused of passing the cost to MDAs and of accepting other forms of gratification e.g. foreign travels, phony seminars, etc. to look the other way.’’

While berating the legislators for the secrecy surrounding their budget, the ICPC big chief said at the lecture that huge allowances due to NASS members had increased in high proportion between 1999 and 2018 even though the number of members at the NASS had not increased.

‘’The ICPC boss spoke on the alleged outlandish allowances of members of National Assembly and the controversial issue of constituency projects. He said that the public perception of legislators as being corrupt would not go away until the National Assembly throws open its yearly budget to the public.

‘’He stressed that the execution of the NASS budget which has grown exponentially from N6.9bn in 1999 to about N139bn in 2018 for the same number of legislators has remained shrouded in secrecy thereby giving room for allegations of abuse and misappropriation of the funds.

‘’Nigeria has the highest paid legislators representing the poorest people in the world. Since 1999, NASS budget had increased without defensible legal or moral justification. The public is hardly told the breakdown and how it (NASS budget) is used. The criticisms will disappear if we are told how it is spent’’, the anti-corruption agency said.

While describing corruption as the enemy of development and good governance, the agency accordingly enjoined the 9th National Assembly to move away from the presumed norm and chart a new course which will aid the fight against corruption in the country.

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